Rail Industry Focus

07.09.17

All in this together

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Northern Hub Alliance project director Mike Heywood updates RTM’s Luana Salles on the astounding progress of the Ordsall Chord – and the tight-knit team responsible for its success.

For an industry that has grown so much so quickly and managed to completely revitalise the concept of long-distance travel, the rail industry does get a bad rap in the media for any little bump in the road. Operators are often hit with complaints when a train is delayed, and Network Rail and its supply chain must have developed some seriously thick skin by now from the series of onslaughts endured when a project misses a milestone or causes any travel disruption. 

That is why we at RTM believe it is essential to shine a spotlight on the successful projects that are signed, sealed and delivered to budget, even in spite of tightened purse strings nationally. 

One such example is the Ordsall Chord which, while not yet concluded, remains firmly on track for its December debut, at which point it will connect Manchester’s three main stations for the first time. 

Given its shaky start – with significant delays in obtaining work permissions and a long-winded legal battle in the High Court – one might not have guessed that the northern scheme was going to flow so smoothly once all the paperwork was finally signed off. 

In truth, while the original deadline of December 2016 had to be pushed back by a year due to a sluggish TWA order, the Chord seems to have overcome the murky waters of troubles past. Since works kicked off at the beginning of last year, the project has been relatively plain sailing for the team in charge. 

“It’s been going really quickly in the last 18 months,” noted Mike Heywood, Northern Hub Alliance project director. “We’ve made a massive amount of progress. With any sort of job, you get it planned right, you spend the right amount of time upfront, and it pays off in the back end.” 

Focusing on solutions, not problems 

Rail industry leaders seem to be in agreement that a major reason for the scheme’s success has been the pure alliance model behind it. When we visited the Chord’s main site back in February, when the 600-tonne network arch was lowered into place over River Irwell, outgoing Transport for the North boss David Brown said the project was a prime example of what Network Rail and its partners can achieve when given the appropriate time, support and money. 

Keith Gardner, project director for Skanska – one of the alliance members alongside BAM Nuttall, Amey, Siemens, Mott MacDonald, AECOM and WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff – also argued that the alliance model replaced the more traditional client/contractor relationship. “If we didn’t have the alliance model, I don’t think we’d be here at this point in time,” he admitted. 

Heywood, who spoke to us shortly after the 40-tonne steel cascade that connects to the network arch was installed, thus marking the project’s second major milestone this year, agreed: in a traditional environment, fulfilling the Chord’s multidisciplinary requirements would have been “quite difficult”. 

“Within this pure alliance contract model, we’re all in it together; once you’ve effectively established the target cost, you’re all in it together,” he explained. “All the efforts are spent on finding solutions and getting on with it, as opposed to pointing fingers at each other when things happen – because things do happen in complex jobs. It’s about everyone being aligned and focused on planning the right solutions. 

“That, and the fact that we involved the right people and the right experts at an early stage in the whole construction plan, means we all developed it in that collaborative environment. If you get the right time to develop the scheme properly – which we did, we had time to develop it in a sensible timescale and plan it – it’s a lot easier to follow through and make it happen.” 

The alliance model has been so imperative to early-stage and co-ordinated planning that it is now expected to be replicated in the TransPennine route upgrade. Many of the same companies – including Amey, BAM Nuttall and Siemens – will be responsible for the project, whose exact price tag remains to be confirmed. 

Ordsall Chord cascade lift 14 August 2017 edit

A closer look 

After two major blockades during Christmas and Easter, the Ordsall Chord has since been progressing smoothly over 27- and 54-hour possessions. During two weekends in July, for example, the team put the final sets of S&C at the Water Street and Castlefield Corridor work side and completed effectively all track works, except for the stretch that goes over the new Chord structure. 

The steel cascade that connects River Irwell and Trinity Way Bridge – or what BDP transport architect director Peter Jenkins called a “continual, flowing ribbon which incorporates individual structures into a single overarching identity” – was then installed in August, denoting the last piece in the jigsaw of the viaduct bridge (pictured above). 

Between August and September the alliance will put the final touches on the structures that make up the Chord, and will install the track, ballast and OLE in preparation for the final commissioning over a 54-hour possession on the weekend of 1 October – the scheme’s seventh and last stage. In the period between then and 10 December, Network Rail will be focused on completing ‘Entry Into Service’ paperwork as well as finishing off street-level landscaping work on the heritage assets affected by the project – one of the major sticking points in the 2015 legal challenge. 

“There’s quite a lot of work we’re doing to some of the Grade I and Grade II listed structures, such as the Stephenson’s Bridge. We’re still in the process of reinstating that to its former glory,” explained Heywood. “There’s a lot of work still ongoing through to January time in terms of landscaping and making sure that the area is left in a better state than when we started.” 

Wide-scale public support 

It’s not just us at the RTM office who are admiring the Chord (which, incidentally, is just a stone’s throw away from our offices). Mancunians, trainspotters and passers-by alike have taken to social media to lavish praise on the fruits of the alliance’s work. Design Manchester, a not-for-profit created to provide the voice of design in the city, applauded the cascade’s ribbon detailing; Twitter user Jack Thompson commended how far the project had already come and its “amazing progress”; and Chris Broadbent of Broady964.co.uk wrote of his excitement over the large investment being poured into northern infrastructure. Self-shot pictures and videos of the network arch and its steel swoosh cascade have also taken over the project’s hashtag, #OrdsallChord. 

“Generally, it’s been entirely positive and with very few issues with any residents or any complaints,” said Heywood. “Everyone in the area is quite positive about it; they can see the redevelopment of the whole area taking place now, and it’ll no doubt benefit them locally with improved train services.” 

David Brown’s own son said he was delighted with the project’s developments, which he can peek at from the windows of the train he boards on his daily commute from Lancaster. 

But it won’t be long now until we can all stop appreciating the arch as outsiders and actually find ourselves riding along its brand new tracks, whether that’s to Manchester’s Piccadilly, Victoria or Oxford Road stations – and all of it congestion-free.

For more information

Tw: #OrdsallChord

W: www.tinyurl.com/RTM-Ordsall-Chord

Comments

Andrew Gwilt   10/09/2017 at 20:13

The Ordsall Chord should be completed by Christmas or possibly early next year with trains starting to use the new link that will free up congestion and to provide better access to 2 Manchester stations (Piccadilly and Victoria) as Virgin Trains West Coast, Arriva Trains Wales, Crosscountry, East Midlands Trains, Northern and Transpennine Express trains will soon be using the Ordsall Chord once its completed.

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